stories from a future that’s already here


Since reading Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations, I’ve been reviewing some of the books on my bookshelf (and acquiring the odd new one), by organisational leaders who have written about their real world business experiments with radical organisational practices.

I know a bunch of you are now having your minds expanded by digesting Laloux’s book and like me, are curious about where the future is already visible. So here’s some titles that, if you are interested, you can chase down. (Laloux also has some lists in the back of his book) Note that every organisation is unique. Most organisations about which these books are written, are a mix of conventional business practice and approaches that reflect the revolutions of the emerging collective consciousness: namely self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose. The common thread is that these leaders had the courage to design their companies in ways that made intuitive sense to them, most notably by removing hierarchical authority.

To whet your appetite, here is a couple of exerts from Gary Hamel’s intro to Jim Whitehurst’s The Open Organisation (see below), including a great little list of characteristics. The important point here is that these characteristics might present as fringe … Laloux’s thesis and research has convinced me that this is the mainstream future.

“Here’s a conundrum. The human capabilities that are most critical to success – the ones that can help your organisation become more resilient, more creative, and more, well, awesome – are precisely the ones that can’t be ‘managed’. … Nearly fifty years ago, Warren Bennis … predicted that we’d soon be working in ‘organic-adaptive structures, organisations that feel like communities, not hierarchies.”

“In organisations fit for the future …

  • Leaders will be chosen by the led.
  • Contribution will matter more than credentials.
  • Influence will come from your value added, not your title.
  • Individuals will compete to make a difference, not to climb a pyramid.
  • Compensation will be set by peers, not bosses.
  • Every idea will compete on an equal footing.
  • Resources will be allocated with market-like mechanisms.
  • Experimentation and fast prototyping will be core competencies.
  • Communities of passion will be the basic organisational building blocks.
  • Coordination will occur through collaboration, not centralisation.
  • Lateral communication will be more important than vertical communication.
  • Structure will emerge only when it creates value and disappear everywhere else.
  • Strategy making will be a dynamic, companywide conversation.
  • Change will start in unexpected places and get rolled up, not out.
  • Control will be achieved through transparency and peer feedback.
  • Organisational boundaries will be porous.
  • Everyone will think like a business owner, and be just as accountable.
  • Decisions will be made as close to the coal face as possible.
  • Commitments will be voluntary.
  • ‘Why’ will matter more than ‘what’.”

So here are some titles for your reference. This is clearly not an exhaustive list, its just the ones on my shelf or on the way there. This list does not include classic management books; these are company stories, from which the authors distill leadership or management ideas.  (click on the image to get to the link) … and be sure to let me know if you’ve got some other good ones.







Organisation: Semco

Comment: I put this one intentionally first. Not only was it the forerunner of books about unconventional business practice, it was the first text I read in my quest for a better way of running organisations. Ricardo Semler was indeed Maverick, so far ahead of his time in creating a workplace that refused to treat people as resources. Just skip to the cartoons at the back to get the idea.

A Stake in the Outcome






Organisation: SRC (Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation)

Comment: And this one intentionally second. Jack’s story was so compelling, Paul Steele and I travelled to St Louis, Missouri to meet him and attend one of his Great Game of Business conventions. Jack’s conviction that people working in an organisation perform fundamentally differently if they have a stake in the outcome remains strikingly profound common sense as it is unthinkable to most business owners. This book was very influential for me.

Joy at Work






Organisation: AES

Comment: Years ago a long term mentor of mine recommended I read this book by his friend’s brother. That a business this big (40,000 employees globally) could operate with such a radically different management practice blew me away. Anyone in the organisation was authorised to make any decision. Really. Yes really. Not surprisingly, Laloux draws heavily on the amazing story of AES in his book.

The Open Organisation






Organisation: Red Hat

Comment: Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system wrote the foreword in one of the most influential books I’ve ever read, The Hacker Ethic. Jim Whitehurst was the ‘conventional’ COO at Delta Airlines, turing it around from the brink of bankruptcy, but underwent a ‘conversion’ when he took on the CEO role at RedHat, the company who’s premier product is an Enterprise Linux one. His book is an accessible description of many of the principles Laloux predicts will become more common in the future.  As you’d expect, the CEO of an iconic open source company has probably got some useful perspectives on “openness”.

Open Minds






Organisation: St Lukes

Comment: This was one of the early books we read when we were searching for stories of businesses that had gone down the path less trodden. As a small agency, we loved path Andy Law took.

One from Many






Organisation: Visa

Comment: Extraordinary and compelling reading. I had no idea that Visa has started out with such an innovative approach to business. Unfortunately, as with AES, it is a tale of how these companies must have leaders who ‘get it’. You can’t install values and practices that survive leaders with more conventional methods and mindsets.








Organisation: 37 Signals (Basecamp etc)

Comment: This is one of those classic contemporary books that presents as the funky, ‘don’t do things the normal way’ kind of book. It almost didn’t make my list because it is framed as a celebration of not being normal rather than simply telling a story. But there is some good stuff in here, so worth a look if you like the more popular style of text.

Let My People Go Surfing






Organisation: Patagonia

Comment: Chouinard is the stereotypical adventurer / accidental business hero. Fiercely committed to meaningful business; an inspirational story.

Delivering Happiness






Organisation: Zappos

Comment: Haven’t read this yet, have put it on my list as it is one of the companies that has adopted Holocracy, an approach featured in Laloux’s book.

The Common Good Corporation






Organisation: RHD (Resources for Human Development)

Comment: Not read yet – one of the organisations Laloux refers to frequently in his book.







Organisation: HolocracyOne

Comment: I guess it had to happen, and Brian Robertson got there first … systematising the emerging set of business practices into a package you can adopt. Lot’s of high profile companies have embraced Robertson’s system (such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and Tony Hsieh’s Zappos), but I feel sceptical. In Robertson’s system the company charter is king and people become subservient to it. I prefer the approach that embraces the peculiarities of talent that people bring; what I call a vocational community. However, this is still a fabulous piece of work and no doubt the attention to detail and the proven system will be embraced by many more organisations and the world will be better for it. This also almost didn’t make it because it is not so much a company story as a set of ideas backed up by stories, but along with the next one on the list, it deserves to be here because it will be a ‘go to’ reference for lots of people.

Management 3.0





Organisation: Happy Melly (kind of)

Comment: There are a few books I keep multiple copies of so I can give them to clients. This is one of them. My mate Shawn Callahan recommended this to me and it has been the source of some great ideas. If you are looking for common sense, creative approaches for conventional business processes written in an easy to read fun format … get Jurgen’s book.